Most new jobs require a bit of an adjustment, as you get used to different work cultures and clients. But few ‘adjustments’ are quite so dramatic as that experienced by Italian ECD Federico Fanti. Six months ago, he joined BBDO Guerrero to a warm welcome. He found himself in one of the happiest countries in the world, a place where more selfies are taken per head of the population than anywhere else. And he moved there following a five-year stint in Moscow – a place he loves but where he describes a combative attitude to work and an emotional distance that takes newcomers time and patience to overcome.
He’s at BBDO Guerrero because of his experience building integrated, below-the-line campaigns in Russia, a country where budgets are shrinking and marketers are moving away from the big, expensive traditional campaigns. And in the past six months he has been extremely busy – but though he’s working twice as long, the warmth of the people and the climate means he feels like he’s having the time of his life.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Federico to pick his brains.
LBB> You’re originally from Italy, so when and why did you move to the Philippines?
FF> It’s a nice question actually! I worked for McCann Erickson in Milan for 11 years – which is a good reason to change. When you get used to a team and an environment and you are in your comfort zone, it’s hard to change. When you are young, you don’t understand all the dynamics that can help you grow up in the advertising industry.
Eventually, a good opportunity came up because my former ECD moved to Russia and he called me to work with him at Y&R Moscow. And actually, that’s when my career really started; in just five years I grew up in terms of role. I became an ECD in two years and we won tons of awards. I am very lucky to have made this decision because it was a very wise move.
After five marvellous years in Moscow I moved to BBDO Guerrero. When you are working in the creative industry, you need to be motivated and inspired. Not just by people, but by the market. After five years and everything we had managed to achieve, I felt my cycle there had come to an end.
I took this opportunity with huge enthusiasm. I think it is a huge honour and responsibility to be ECD at BBDO Guerrero because David Guerrero is an amazing mentor and a legend in the Philippines. Everywhere we go there are lots of young guys who want to take a selfie with David, he’s like a rock star! The agency is really cool.
The experience of arriving in Russia seven years ago and arriving in Manila have been quite different. The Russian agency was not in a good shape creatively, it had never achieved any Lions, we helped the team to achieve their first Lion and then they won ten Lions in five years. BBDO Guerrero is already in very good shape, though they wanted to hire someone who could bring a bit of know-how in terms of digital, in terms of new media, which is exactly what we used to do in Y&R Moscow.
LBB> How do the two cultures compare when you're working there?
FF> I always say that Russians are like vodka: very cold outside, but very warm inside. That very much reflects their culture. Initially, Russians are very sceptical and distant to people, but if you manage to overcome this barrier they become really close. This is why I lived in Russia for more than five years; I managed to overcome this distance and they became very nice partners and friends. I have lots of friends in the Russian industry and I have a very good relationship with everyone in my old office. You have to be very patient if you want to work in the Russian industry, but if you are patient, you can survive. I’m always praising Russia because my career started from the very first step in the Russian market.
The Filipino experience, even though I’ve been there for just six months, is completely different. Basically, you settle immediately because the attitude of the people is already very warm and welcoming. They are very similar to Italians in terms of culture; first of all, they are Roman Catholics and second of all, they are very friendly. They are very warm, and the vibe of the people is really overwhelmingly positive. The Philippines is one of the happiest countries in the world; they like smiling, they want to make you feel comfortable in their company. Even if I’m working twice as much as I did in Russia I don’t perceive it as a job. Don’t ask me why, but I just feel very comfortable with the team and with David. David is an amazing boss, a very nurturing partner and he leaves me a lot of freedom when it comes to leading the creative department.
The only downside is that they are very shy when it comes to arguing. If they don’t agree with something you want them to do, they don’t tell you; they keep it inside. In Russia it’s the complete opposite! They tell you too much! Every meeting with the team, every meeting with the client was a battle… but it was a fruitful battle. I learned a lot about myself, I discovered I could be a relentless human being and I learned patience.
LBB> From a creative point of view, do you feel that experience of working across such different cultures has helped your own practice as a creative?
FF> When you work abroad and you compare your know-how with different markets, you have everything to learn and everything to give. The Russian market is completely different to the Philippines.
In the Philippines, the market is a little bit bigger and the business is a little bit healthier. They are a little bit more skilled in terms of ATL communication and I’m trying to nurture the team in terms of digital, guerrilla and experiential market. This is something I learned from my Russian experience – in Russia they don’t do much above the line anymore because the clients’ budgets are shrinking. But in my portfolio, there are a lot of experiential campaigns that were pretty successful in terms of the user journey. I must admit the creative level of the agency is already quite high, they just need to fine tune a couple of tricks in terms of interaction with the target audience and engagement.
We need to not only educate the teams but first of all we also need to educate our clients, which is the hardest part of the job.
LBB> In Asia, I know that there are a lot of platforms that are not really used in other parts of the world. How have you found figuring out the digital and social landscape in Southeast Asia?
FF> First of all, just as an example, in Russia, they don’t even have Spotify. They don’t have LinkedIn, because of political issues. Coming to the Philippines, they are much more influenced by American culture, and are more accepting of things that come from America. They are huge users of Facebook. I think the Philippines are the top country in terms of the number of selfies they take – they are addicted! http://time.com/selfies-cities-world-rankings/ Maybe it’s because they like smiling! They are really quite comfortable with social networks and this helps very much in creating a bond with the target audience.
LBB> You’ve only been this role for six months, but I was wondering, in that time, if there were any projects you’ve worked on that you’re really proud of?
FF> Actually yes! In just six months we have produced a lot of stuff. There is one amazing piece, Playstreet
, an integrated digital campaign that helps Johnson Baby in its advocacy to let children play safely in the street. In the Philippines, children don’t have playgrounds and they end up playing in very narrow streets full of cars. Due to the fact that traffic jams are really overwhelming, every year thousands of children are victims of car accidents. We created a navigation system that drivers could download and use. We detect the streets where children are playing and we created this monster that will pop up, using Google Streetview and Maps.
We have another case, a Snickers stunt. You know the platform, ‘You’re not yourself when you’re hungry’? It’s an amazing big idea but it’s difficult to keep this platform alive with beautiful and compelling campaigns, so this year we tried to shift the concept. What happens when someone else is hungry? We created a stunt with a street artist who is so hungry that his portraits are really bad, and you can get your portrait done by this hungry artist. We are really proud of these campaigns, and there are lots of others that we are working on.
We are creating a campaign for Spam, using recipes to create lyrics for karaoke. Basically, very simple recipes you can create with Spam products. We wanted to create interaction with the target audience with this compelling and quirky karaoke.
LBB> You’ve really come in and hit the ground running!
FF> I already mentioned, as soon as I came in and started working – working is the best way to settle. The more I do there, the more I learn.
Being a creative director 10 years ago and being a creative director now are totally different. Ten years ago, they just mentored the creative team – now the new generation of creatives can teach the creative director to be more modern and trendy. If you want to survive nowadays in the advertising industry you have to constantly study what is around you. The younger generation is learning from your know-how but they are, simultaneously, teaching us how to compel people using the new media. How to use Spotify in a nice way. How to use Facebook with an interactive way. They really help me keep my mind young, which is priceless.
LBB> Going back to when you were younger, how did you get into advertising in the first place?
FF> When I was young I was a movie geek. There are 20 movies that I have watched more than 25 times each, because I was trying to learn how to shoot certain scenes. I always wanted to be part of that industry. Eventually I became acquainted with advertising and then my former teacher at Ad School in Milan was enthusiastic about my skills and he hired me at my first place, McCann Erickson. Everything started from there. But movies are the link between me and advertising.
LBB> Are you still a movie geek?
FF> A little bit less so! I am more into TV shows. They are another example of how our culture is shifting. It is an amazing marketing idea – when you go home after a very tough day, you think ok, maybe I don’t want to watch a movie because they’re too long. I just want to watch one episode of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad… and suddenly you’ve watched three or four episodes because you can’t help it!
LBB> So one thing I am curious to ask you about is that I haven’t come across many Italians working in creative markets outside of Italy – whereas certain nationalities like Colombians and Australians seem to travel everywhere. What’s your take on this, as someone who has made that leap?
FF> This is my perception. First of all: Italy is amazing. Objectively, it is one of the most comfortable countries in the world – we have everything there. Even if the political and economic situation isn’t as good as it used to be, and people complain, they still like being in Italy. Italians tend to like their comfort zone. Up until about five years ago people used to live with their parents until they are were about 30. I’m an exception! I escaped when I was about 18 – I was lucky, actually, to learn how to be alone. Italians are not very driven to change their comfort zone – they only do it if they are forced to.
I was lucky to follow my former ECD because, if not for him, I don’t know if I would have lived abroad. This is a state of mind that you only understand once you live abroad. In Italy, you consider people who live abroad as losers, you know? ‘You didn’t manage to work here and you are not Italian to the core.’ And Italians who live abroad consider the Italians back home as not particularly brave. Really, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
It’s sad for the industry. In Italy, I have a lot of friends who work in the local market and it is full of talent. There are a lot of creative directors in Italy who are amazingly skilled and could eventually build an amazing career. But Italy is too amazing to leave. It’s a compromise, you know. I love living abroad but I would like to go back to Italy someday.
The truth is that Italians who live abroad are not doing so because they don’t love their country. We love our country. But we also love ourselves. We wanted to develop ourselves and living abroad is a very fast way to develop yourself.
LBB> Looking forward to this time next year, what would you like to have achieved at the agency?
FF> We have to create PR-driven ideas for our clients. Many agencies are able to create disruptive, compelling ideas, but if you see the Grands Prix, they are all about compelling, disruptive ideas that can achieve huge PR worldwide. So Trash Isle, for example, is a compelling idea in its simplicity but it achieved a massive amount of worldwide PR. Without PR, you cannot achieve any kind of recognition.
The goal for me and for the agency is to be relevant for our society. Advertisers nowadays have a huge responsibility towards society. You cannot just make amazing campaigns for the sake of awards, you have to make amazing campaigns that are relevant, according to the issues of the world, if not topical situations.
It will take time, but this is my ultimate goal.